June 6, 2001
The gun-control lobby is on the warpath in a most surprising
venue. A group called Doctors Against Handgun Injury is calling on
doctors, including psychiatrists, to ask their patients nosy questions
about their gun ownership.
As far back as we can remember, doctors have vigorously opposed
any interference with the confidentiality of the doctor-patient
relationship. We could always count on medical associations to defend
patient privacy against any invasion by government, the media or others
into personal medical records.
Psychiatrists have been outspoken in the past about the importance
of patient-doctor confidentially because trust in the doctor is
particularly important. Their patients are usually in a very
vulnerable and exploitable state of mind.
Somehow, this is changing under a new onslaught by the gun-control
lobby. It has lined up a coalition consisting of the American
Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American
Academy of Pediatrics, and ten other medical organizations claiming a
membership of 600,000 doctors.
The Doctors Against Handgun Injury plan to engage in what it calls
"upstream intervention." That means using regular medical checkups to
ask patients about firearm ownership and storage in their homes and
warn them of the risks of this behavior.
But that's not all. Doctors Against Handgun Injury is also
calling for changes in public policy, such as mandatory background
checks on buyers at gun shows, limits on the number of guns an
individual can buy, and a waiting period for all gun purchasers.
Will patients no longer see their physician as a trusted
professional in whom they can confide their most private facts about
mind and health? Will the physician instead be perceived as an arm of
the government prying into their private lives, or as a spokesman of a
special-interest advocacy group pursuing a political agenda?
Doctors should be especially leery of this project because of the
20th century experience of medicine under Soviet Communism and Nazism.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial showed how the German medical profession
became a collaborator with the Nazi regime by collecting data on their
patients that were then used against them.
Unfortunately, some gun-control lawmakers are trying to lock
doctors into the ban-the-gun agenda. A bill now under consideration in
the California State Legislature would require pediatricians to subject
children and their parents to all sorts of nosy questions about
"family, environmental, and social risk factors," including whether
there are guns in the home and whether their parents spank them.
You would think that the American Medical Association (AMA) would
be shouting from the housetops against this government and outside
interference with private medical practice, but it looks like the AMA
has joined the ban-the-guns movement. The AMA uses its publications,
including its Journal (JAMA), to publish biased research with
preordained conclusions, such as "easy gun availability results in
The AMA has plenty of money to pursue its political agenda, which
is increasingly left-liberal, and it doesn't have to depend on the
support of member doctors. Two-thirds of the AMA's annual $200 million
operating budget comes from sources other than membership, which has
now dwindled to only a third of U.S. physicians.
A principal source of AMA wealth is a contract (kept secret from
1983 to 1998) with the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) by
which HCFA requires all doctors to buy the AMA codes and use them to
bill the government and third-party insurance carriers for all medical
services. Failure to use the AMA codes accurately may result in
government accusations of fraud and abuse, and prosecution and
The taxpayer-financed Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is also
climbing aboard the ban-the-guns movement. It is trying to broaden the
scope of public health to include the banning and confiscation of all
handguns, the restrictive licensing of owners of other firearms, and
the eventual elimination of all guns from private ownership except for
a small elite of wealthy collectors, hunters and target shooters.
CDC spokesmen propagate the myth that most of the perpetrators of
violence are ordinary citizens rather than criminals by trade. The
fact is that the typical murderer has a prior criminal history of at
least six years with four felony arrests before he commits murder, and
75 percent of all violent crimes are committed by six percent of
hardened criminals and repeat offenders.
We don't have to look very far to observe the tragic loss of
liberty in countries that have gone down the road of banning private
gun ownership or using doctors to collect confidential data on their
patients to serve a political agenda. Fortunately, Attorney General
John Ashcroft has just reaffirmed the constitutional principle that the
Second Amendment "protects the private ownership of firearms for lawful